Friday, June 29, 2012

A Few Thoughts About a Fire.

First of all, I am not really qualified to write this piece.  I didn't lose my home.  Living in the center of Colorado Springs I wasn't even evacuated.  Unlike some of my friends, I didn't take in evacuees.

But let me say this.

This morning I read that a person (not a body, this is no cozy mystery to be read then forgotten) was found dead in a fire-ravaged home in the north end of Colorado Springs.  I didn't know this person in any way, shape, or form.  He or she was just fellow Coloradoan who shared my home town and died in a horrific natural disaster.  My heart broke and I wept.

Let me say this.

Thank you to all the folks who worked tirelessly to save the homes of friends, parents, former students, and people I might never meet.  Your efforts haven't gone unnoticed. You are appreciated.  You are true heroes.

Let me say this.

To all of you who lost your homes.  I know that any words I speak here will be inadequate. I know.  I tried this morning to tell a friend my feelings about her loss.  Thoughts froze in my mind and words tumbled out of my mouth in a rush of nonsense.  All I can really say is that you are in my heart and in my prayers.

Let me say this.

To all of you who opened your homes to frightened refugees.  You are love made manifest.  I envy you your generosity and selflessness.  I envy you even more because you performed your acts of kindness without feeling a loss.  Everyone I know who took someone, or an entire family, in felt it was an honor.  It's moments like these that make me proud of my species.

Here are the facts:  A fire storm raged out of Waldo Canyon, was fed by mindless winds, spread at an insane speed across my beautiful mountains, was fought by men and women of valor, displaced over thirty thousand people, consumed (as of this time) almost sixteen thousand acres, and devoured over three hundred homes.

Again I say these are the facts.  But the story is so much more.


Friday, June 22, 2012

Crested Butte - Day Two

Hello again.  Today I drove up the mountain to the town of Mount Crested Butte (really only about two miles away but a nice drive, bicycles everywhere, all the time.  Very cool!!

Went to breakfast with six strangers who became friends.  One nice middle aged lady writes erotica; she was great.  Met two Sandy winners.  For those of you who don't know what that is, it is the writing contest for the conference.

I'm liking this conference already.

By the way this conference is so much smaller than Pikes Peaks Writers Conference, about 1/6 the size.  The line for breakfast was tiny.

Went to an agent panel and was surprised to meet some people whose pictures I'd seen on line.  Mary Kole looks so young in person.  Went to a class on agents by a fellow who writes for Writers Digest.  I thought I knew everything there was to know about agents but I learned something.  Eckart Tolle would have been proud of me.

Followed that up with a class by an editor from Tor (do's and don't about submitting and publishing), once again learned something (although I did always agree with him).

Lunch was fantastic--ate too much, but kept my sodium intake reasonable (that's another post).

The afternoon was filled with chats with authors and although I liked most of them (one of them was Hank Phillipi Ryan, who I think is so cool), I bugged out and went for a hike, with Julia Allen, past two beautiful lakes. Two hours in paradise.

Life is good.

Getting ready to go to a locaI bar to pick the brain of Mary Kole.  Won't be drinking.  I'm here with Julia and last night I had absinthe.

I don't think I'll get back on line tonight, so have a good evening.

Crested Butte Writers Conference

This is the year of conferences for me.  In late March, I went to Left Coast Crime in Sacramento - met some fantastic people.  Came back to April Conferences (that's plural) Pikes Peak Writers Conference (Great!!!)  and Malice Domestic in Bethesda, MD (so much fun).  I just arrived in Crested Butte with Julia Allen for the Writers Conference here.  This is my first, her 4th.
Here's my plan:

Over the next 4 days I will give a play by play of my experiences.  Hopefully, you, dear reader, will enjoy it.

Okay, having just arrived this 21st day of June, the Year of our Lord 2012, I am heading out to explore Crested Butte.  I'll keep you posted.

I'm back from an hour and a half walk on Elk Street, the main drag of Crested Butte, six blocks of stores (boutiques, gift shops, jewelry stores) bars, and restaurants.  Beautiful day, surrounded by mountains, had ice cream, talked to some very friendly people; like Manitou Springs a river runs through the heart of town.

Took off out of town for another bit of the walk, more friendly people, children laughing, hawks flying overhead.  Got back in time to get a call in to my wife, pick up Julia from her class, and head out to dinner.

Went to this cool place where this guy played jazz guitar (Joe Buck Johnson).  He played almost every request I could think of ( Somewhere over the Rainbow, Ain't Misbehavin', Ghost Riders in the Sky, King of the Road) plus Cole Porter, Fats Waller, Irving Berlin, you name it.  I had a fried squash blossom for an appetizer.  It was so tasty.

Went up to the oldest grave yard I've ever seen.  People died in Crested Butte in the 1820's, many of them children.  A hard life in these mountains back then.

Tomorrow (actually today now) I go to my first classes and hang with the Sandy winners.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Beavers, Sunsets, and Great Blue Herons

                                                    BEAVERS IN THE MIST

Last evening my wife and I were bored.  The type of boredom where you each stare at the other hoping he (or she) can come up with something that will be a game-changer - or at least a little bit fun.

"I got nothing." was my contribution.

My wife (who by the way may be the best woman on the planet and recognizes fun when she sees it) suggested we go look for beavers.

For those of you not from Colorado Springs and aren't acquainted with Monument Valley Park, there are two municipal parks close to downtown Colo Spgs: MVP and Memorial Park.  The later is good if you are looking for a sporting event.  We were not.  We were after the elusive beaver.

Over by the old Van Briggle Pottery Mill, not far from Uintah Avenue, is a pond.  Barbara and I had gone to this pond once (in the middle of the day) before looking for the beaver family that supposedly lived (and even had built a dam) in these wet environs.


We came to find out (from an article in the Gazette) that optimal beaver viewing time was after seven in the evening.  This same article mentioned a fellow named Gordon who'd been viewing, photographing, and generally hobnobbing with these buck-toothed mammals for the past decade.  Rumor had it that this guy knew everything there was to know about the local beaver population.

"Time?" I asked.

"Seven-Oh-Five," my wife responded.

"Conditions are favorable."


And we were off.

We arrived in the park as the sun was declining onto Pikes Peak.  Reds, and oranges and golden yellows were filling the sky.  A light breeze wafted through our hair as we emerged from our car.  The pond was a two minute walk from the lot.  We were hopeful.  As we approached the pond from the walking path that looked down on it we saw him.

"It's the Beaver Guy!" Barbara said excitedly.  And she was right.  Tall with a long white beard, the Beaver Guy from the newspaper stood at the edge of the pond, camera in hand.  Not two feet from him, a pair of beavers were splashing in the water.

"Oh my God," my wife whispered.

We didn't want to make too much noise.  For all we knew, this man had waited for hours to get these critters to come this close.  We sure didn't want to scare them off.  Breath held, with grins like loons I'm thinking, we watched until two glistening figures swim across the pond toward what looked like every beaver abode I'd ever seen.  Then Gordon the Beaver Man stepped aside.  At the very water's edge sat the fattest, furriest beaver I'd ever seen.  Gordon turned to us.  "Come on down.  He won't hurt you."

Still trying to be cool, we scurried down to the water's edge.  The beaver didn't budge.  The beautiful thing just sat there munching on cottonwood leaves (It's one of their favorite diet items, I'm told.  Who knew?)
At that moment, I decided I would stand there and watch this little snacker as long as he (I was told he was the papa) deemed it pleasant to hang with us.  While I watched the beaver, again with a stupid grin on my face, Gordon told me about the history of this little mammal family.  There were four of them: papa, mama, and two babies, who weren't all that small.  In his soft voice, Gordon also told my wife and I about other denizens of this municipal pond.

"There's a snapping turtle that been eating the newborn ducklings." He gave a blow-by-blow of how the turtle would swim up under a duckling grab a foot and drag the hapless baby down into the depths where it would drown and the reptile would eat it.  "There used to be five.  Now there's only two."

As he spoke of a great blue heron that occasionally visited the pond, the bird himself (or herself, I couldn't tell) swooped over us and landed in the pond.  In typical heron style it stood on one leg like that was the most natural pose in the world.

Gordon also spoke of a giant frog that lived in this city pool of water.  He made his hands into a shape as big as a dinner plate.  I would have loved to have seen this bad boy - I am a great lover of amphibians.  Alas, this particular frog failed to show.

All the while Gordon is regaling us with these tales, the beavers are swimming back and forth from their home to the water's edge.  At one time, one of the babies even proceeded to crawl out of the water.  He only crawled a few steps onto dry land before he changed his mind but it was very cool.

Somewhere in the course of our visit, Gordon found out that I was a writer.  It seems he would like to write a book himself, a children's book.  It would be about the critters in the pond and narrated by the frog, who must keep a wary eye out for the heron and the turtle.  I think I would buy this book.

Well, the sun dipped below the peak and eventually it was time to go.  We said goodbye to Gordon, the Beaver Guy.  Shadows turned into collected darkness as we walked to our respective cars.  I took my wife's hand, and she was still grinning as I opened the door for her.

"Let's come back tomorrow night."

That sounded like a great idea.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Hint for Liars and Truth-tellers Logic Problem.

Consider what the first native's answer had to be to the ambassador's question.  In fact, consider what any native would have to answer to that question.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Sonya Kovalevsky: Too Passionate to Live, Too Young to Die

I don't know about you, but several images pop into my mind when I think about Russia.  First there are those guys in Fiddler on the Roof who dance with a bottle on their heads.  Gorbachev wearing that cranberry map of  New Jersey on his forehead.  How about Khruschev banging his shoe on the table at the UN?  Doctor Zhivago.  Red Square.  Vodka.  Anastasia.

Furry Hats.


Who doesn't always come to mind is Sonya Kovalevsky, perhaps the smartest person to have ever graced the planet.  I know, I know, hyperbole again, but let me paint you a picture and you can decide for yourself.

Sonya Corvin-Krukovsky Kovalevsky is one of the mathematicians (in fact the main mathematician) featured in the third Bonnie Pinkwater mystery, Irrational Numbers. Born in Czarist Russia in 1850, her father, while a war hero, was a bit of a skinflint.  He wallpapered her bedroom with the mathematical papers of a then-famous Russian mathematician and teacher who in turn had directly summarized the works of Leibnitz and Newton. In other words, little Sonya had her nursery wallpapered with Calculus texts. At fifteen, when she took her first class in Differential Calculus, she and her teachers were amazed at the quickness with which she grasped the concepts, "as if I'd known them before."

Universities in Russia were closed to females, especially those wanting to study mathematics.  A possibility existed that Sonya could continue her education outside of Russia, but in order to do this she was forced into a platonic marriage with friend who most probably was a homosexual.  As would be the model for the rest of her passionate life, Sonya did what was necessary in order to pursue her dreams. Still in her teens, and with a new husband in tow, she headed off to Berlin, Germany, to study with one of the most celebrated mathematical minds of the age, Karl Weierstrass--only to run into obstacles.

At the University of Berlin they did not accept female students.  To test her intelligence (and perhaps to get rid of an insistent female) Weierstrass gave her a set of problems from the cutting edge of Analysis (advanced Calculus).  She not only solved them all, but came up with original solutions.  Unfortunately, even Weierstrass was unable get the university to accept her.  For the next four years she would pick up the great man's lectures second hand: borrowed lecture notes, private conversations, sitting in the hall outside the classroom.  Even though she could not formally study math, during this time, Sonya published several papers in such diverse areas as Physics (the study of Saturn's rings), Systems of Equations, Partial Differential Equations, Abelian Integrals, and Laplace Transforms.

She also began a career in literature.  Her struggles made her an advocate of Women's Rights, and she would  pen a best seller on the subject.

Although she and her husband did have a child, he was not equipped to meet all her demands, sexual and emotional.  He took to drinking and gambling.  She in turn, found solace outside their marriage (it was rumored that Sonya might have used her feminine charms to convince Weierstrass to mentor her).  To her eventual shame, her weak-willed husband committed suicide.

After his death, Sonya threw herself into her work.  She took her child, Foufie, across Europe with her as she tried again and again, to attain employment.  It didn't hurt that she could speak every major language in Europe.  Eventually, with Weierstrass's help, she was able to find work as a teacher at a small school in Stockholm.  Here she wrote papers on Mathematics (she won the famous Prix Bourdin Prize from the Academy of Science in Paris, which she won by concealing her gender until after the prize was awarded), and poetry and literature on Women's Rights (The Rayevsky Sisters was another bestseller).

And then she fell in love.  History does not reveal the true identity of this lover, only the one word name of Maxim.  By all accounts, he loved Sonya and her child deeply.  And for a time he was even able to accommodate the extremes that had become Sonya Kovalevsky.  Always passionate in her beliefs, Sonya had grown rigid and dark.  She insisted he support her every scientific and sometimes not so scientific endeavors.  As her brilliance grew, so did her eccentricities.  She came to believe she was a seer and could interpret dreams; she was given to dark moods where she claimed the entire world was populated with fools who did not understand her genius. In the end, Maxim was driven away by her demands.

In 1891, a dispirited Sonya left behind Foufie with some friends in Moscow and took a train back to Stockholm. She was forced to sit at a remote station in the bitter cold.  At 41 years of age she took to her sick bed and would eventually die.  Although at the time doctors said this brilliant women died of influenza, her close friends knew better.  Sonya Corvin-Krukovsky Kovelevsky never got over losing Maxim.

Perhaps the most brilliant person to have walked the Earth died of a broken heart.